Joseph Arthur uses his latest release, Our Shadows Will Remain, as an opportunity to challenge his listener. Arthur’s unique brand of dream-pop features equal parts acoustic guitar and synthetic sounds. On the surface it’s cold and desolate, but after further listening, the album’s warmth and lush soundscape begin to crystallize.
With a style reminiscent of Brian Eno, and heavily influenced by mentor Peter Gabriel, Arthur avoids being pretentious or self-indulgent. By injecting strong melodies into an ethereal landscape, Arthur has championed a unique and satisfying sound.
Some songs have very traditional elements, but utilize a non-linear structure in their composition. The other songs are more experimental, and, as a result, are some of the brightest spots on the album. This mix adds a dynamic to the album that serves it well. The cohesiveness of the album is strong, and his goals are clear throughout the entire effort.
The best songs showcase Arthur’s creative guitar arrangements and highlight his unique voice. “Can’t Exist” is a fantastic opener and a great statement about the album as a whole. It is a well-crafted effort that showcases everything Arthur is going after. The intriguing track “Even Tho” brings the same sensibility of Arthur’s more straightforward songwriting to a more convoluted approach to musicianship. The techno effects in the background of this song do not take much away from his vocal work and offer a different perspective on Arthur’s sound. The best part of this album is its hookiness. The slow pacing of many of the songs belies the fact that they are incredibly catchy, with hooks being both slow to present themselves and incredibly effective.
There are some tracks that really do not work at all, but they detract little from the overall accomplishments of the album. “Stumble and Pain” is so mired down in overproduction it sags and slows down the solid sequencing of the album. There is something resembling a slamming door in the background, and it sounds exactly as ridiculous as it looks in print. The song “Wasted” is accurately titled both because it is wasted space on this album and because Arthur must have been intoxicated when he composed it. “Echo Park,” an attempted sob-fest, is a dismal failure at saying something profound. With inflated lyrics such as “A fire never understands / The spark,” Arthur gets himself off track in a very major way.
Arthur has offered a strong release, albeit flawed, that clearly shows what he was trying to do. The stronger pop tracks illuminate some of the failings of the other tracks on the album, but the overall product remains strong. An album like this may appear unapproachable because of its experimental stylings, but, in this case, a listen is incredibly worthwhile.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars